Saturday, October 11, 2008

Are we all suspected terrorists now?

This week we learned that if you've ever had professional contact with someone who had a radical past - such as a direct-action anti-Vietnam-war protester who used explosives to attack government buildings in the 1960s - then you can be called a 'terrorist' yourself and an angry mob can call for you to be beheaded, blown up or otherwise killed, whilst someone who is running for the position of US President or Vice President smiles and says little, or nothing at all.

Even if, when the explosives were set off, you were eight years old, and the guy they're talking about as a 'terrorist' is now a middle-aged professor who used to sit on an education board with you at the start of your career. Yes, this week we learned that to large swathes of people, Senator Barack Obama, the likely next President of the US, is a suspected terrorist.

(Hmmmm, angry mobs, right-wing 'country first' political rallies, economic downturns, hateful and false propaganda - should we be concerned? Any historians in the house fancy a crack at that one?)

So, Senator McCain and lying religious extremist Governor Palin have been inciting hate and violence this week against someone whose politics they don't agree with. (Which, ironically enough in this country would make them suspected terrorists.) Meanwhile, the UK Government has been invoking anti-terrorist legislation against an Icelandic bank whose (admittedly awful) fiscal behaviour they don't agree with.

Seems like the unlikeliest people can be painted as terrorists ,and terrorism laws can be used against the wierdest targets these days. And every week that goes by, the meaning of suspected terrorist seems to get a little stretchier.

Hmmm, you think. Well, I'm solvent, and I'm not running for US President. I should be ok. I'm just an ordinary British person, with a normal everyday life.

But terrrism laws are already being used to spy on ordinary people.

Such as people with barking dogs and noisy children. People who drop burger wrappers and don't scoop up their dog's poo.

Well, you might say to yourself, I'm not antisocial. In fact, if there was a neighbourhood demonstration against tearaway youths and litterbugs and dog poo, I might very well pop along. The local park is becoming a right mess. In fact, I support several environmental campaign groups which are against dumping waste - on a small or industrial scale.

Careful. If you've ever wished you could 'seriously alter a country's political, economic or social structures', as an individual or a group - or thought about attaching a protest sign - or even yourself - to the park railings - you'd better have a read of the new EU law on terrorism before you consider any protest or dissent to that effect.

What about if you were quite happy with the UK's political, economic and social structures - but your friend sent you something suspect by email? Like an Al Qaeda training manual, that he was looking at as part of his studies for his politics PhD, and wanted you to print out for him?
A manual that is available as a free download from a US government website, by the way.
A document you didn't even know he'd emailed to you.

Well, you might find yourself being arrested, repeatedly interrogated and detained in solitary confinement without knowing why, whilst your home is raided and your friends and colleagues questioned about every aspect of your professional and personal life and your parents become frantic with anxiety.

It's distressing, scary, and unfair to be labelled a suspected terrorist when you are a completely innocent person. But at least, in this country, at the moment, under the current government, the police let you out eventually, if they can't find something to charge you with. They have to, after four weeks. You might have lost your job, your relationship, your reputation, your solvency and your sanity, but at least you'll still be alive to pick up the pieces and start again.

As you probably remember, the UK government wanted the power to hold people without charge for 3 whole months, but they weren't able to get enough votes in the Commons. They're currently trying again, this time for 6 week detention period. They did manage to get just enough Commons votes this time, but the House of Lords is fighting the bill on Monday. (The noble Lords had better be careful that they're not all labelled 'suspected terrorists' in a few years' time. After all, no-one elected them and they're arguably being very disruptive at the moment.)

Of course, if the Bush administration thinks you are a suspected terrorist, and manages to catch hold of you, you can be locked up without charge and tortured - even into madness - with no legal protection at all, for as long as the US government want to keep you locked up.

Over here in the UK, if the latest anti-terror laws go through, it will be the case that if you die at the hands of the State - by accident or design - the inquest into your death can be held without a jury, without a coroner, presided over by someone appointed by the government, and closed to the public and the media. Secret inquests. That's a complete violation of open justice, but with so many other basic rights being shredded, without much public reaction, who cares anymore?

Yes, its starting to look as if almost anyone could be a suspected terrorist these days.
It's almost as if being a suspected terrorist is starting to mean 'someone we in power don't like the look of', doing something we don't approve of.'

Like owning a naughty or incontinent dog. Or having the wrong kind of political acquaintances. Or looking like you might win a popular election on a more liberal ticket by a landslide.

Or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Being annoyed about the terrorism laws being misapplied and protesting about it might, one day, make you a suspected terrorist. At this rate, who knows where that will end?

Fortunately, there's still time to do something about all this lunacy.

If you have a seat in the House of Lords, you can vote against the latest anti-terror bill.
If you live in the UK, you can talk to your friends and family, write to your MP, sign and pass on the petition and generally exercise your right to protest about it.

If you're Barack Obama, you can ignore it and carry on campaigning to get yourself elected.

I can only wish everyone the very best of luck in their endeavours.

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Blogger David Mackinder said...

Very disturbing. Presumably any of us who have signed a petition such as Liberty's are already on a 'watch' list?

Good to see that America has now removed N. Korea from the terror list. Presumably Mr Brown is lobbying them to substitute Iceland's name in the vacant space?

October 11, 2008 6:54 pm  

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